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The Trump Administration’s 'Clean Networks Initiative' has no place in European telecommunications policy

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Announced in August 2020 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the so-called Clean Networks Initiative seeks to decouple the United States from all Chinese telecommunications equipment and mobile communications technology, including mobile apps. It also extends to data servers and transmission network infrastructure like undersea cables - write Simon Lacey.

 

Simon Lacey

Simon Lacey

On its face, the initiative might appear to be a comprehensive approach to network security that seeks to leave no part of the digital economy untouched. Yet although it claims to be based on “internationally accepted digital trust standards”, this claim has never been substantiated since the initiative was announced.

 

If the initiative were, in fact, based on international standards, it could not discriminate so blatantly against equipment and technology from one country: China. Any international accepted digital trust standard would have to be based on some degree of consensus, and the global consensus among cybersecurity experts is that measures based on a simple “flag of origin” approach do nothing to improve network security. As one expert, Maria Farrell, explained “[the Initiative’s] specifics don’t add up terribly well [and] don’t speak to a good understanding of how networks function”.

 

The Administration’s approach also seems at odds with that of America’s own technology sector. In 2011, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a trade group that unites US hardware and software companies, released its Cybersecurity Principles for Industry and Government. This document articulates 12 principles that “seek to provide a useful and important lens through which any efforts to improve cybersecurity should be viewed”.

 

Principle No. 2 says that “[efforts] to improve cybersecurity must properly reflect the borderless, interconnected, and global nature of today’s cyber environment”. ITI goes on to explain that policies that comply with this principle will improve interoperability of digital infrastructure by making it easier to align security practices and technologies across borders, while also facilitating international trade in cybersecurity products and services across multiple markets.

 

Interestingly, the ITI also refers to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which it notes “calls for non-discrimination in the preparation, adoption, and application of technical regulations, standards, [and] avoiding unnecessary obstacles to trade”. The Clean Network initiative as currently formulated is the exact anti-thesis of these principles.

 

It also stands in marked contrast to that of the European Union, a major US trading partner and geopolitical ally. In early 2020, the EU announced a “5G toolbox” to guide regulators on how to secure 5G communications networks as they are being launched. By adopting the 5G toolbox, EU Member States have committed to “move forward in a joint manner based on an objective assessment of identified risks and proportionate mitigating measures.”

 

The EU’s 5G toolbox calls on member states to strengthen security requirements for mobile networks, assess the risk profile of suppliers based solely on security grounds and objective criteria, and to ensure that the 5G ecosystem consists of a healthy plurality of competing suppliers by requiring operators to have an appropriate multi-vendor strategy (i.e. that they source equipment and technologies  from at least two and ideally three or more vendors).

 

The EU’s concerns about 5G network security are based on the critical role that communications networks and data play in modern economies. Nowhere do the EU specifications call for the arbitrary and discriminatory singling out and banning of equipment vendors based in China.

 

A better approach to securing 5G networks and equipment is one developed by the global industry itself. The Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS) was created  by GSMA, an industry organisation representing more than 750 mobile network operators worldwide; and by 3GPP, an umbrella organization of seven standards-setting organizations, which develop protocols for mobile telecommunications.

 

NESAS articulates many of the internationally accepted security requirements that network equipment vendors must comply with, and it lays out a blueprint for independently verifying compliance with ISO requirements. Nowhere is there any provision for excluding a product simply because the company that manufactured it happened to be headquartered in a country that has fallen out of favour with the United States executive branch, or with certain members of Congress.

 

The Clean Network initiative actually makes it less likely the that United States will adopt any of the demonstrably effective steps it could take to improve network security. These steps require a multi-stakeholder approach and the active participation of all ecosystem players – including equipment vendors, operators, regulators, businesses, and even individual users.

 

As commentator David Morris has also pointed out, the current unilateral approach being pursued by the Trump administration risks undermining international cooperation and abandoning the rules-based system of international trade cooperation that the United States has traditionally championed. This is a bad idea, best relegated to the trash heap of history and replaced with more collaborative, more effective approaches that will actually enhance the security of the world’s communications networks.

 

* The author is Senior Lecturer in International Trade at the University of Adelaide and previously served as Vice-President Trade Facilitation and Market Access at Huawei Technologies in China.

EU

Amid France-Turkey row, UK calls on NATO allies to defend free speech

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on NATO allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on values of tolerance and free speech, in a veiled rebuke to Turkey which has been calling for a boycott of French goods, writes Estelle Shirbon.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Turks to stop buying French goods and has accused France of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Britain, France and Turkey are all NATO members.

Erdogan is one of several leaders in the Muslim world angry with France over its response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as part of a lesson on free speech.

“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” Raab said in a statement. “Terrorism can never and should never be justified.

“NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never give terrorists the gift of dividing us.”

Paty, a teacher at a state-run school in the far outskirts of Paris, was beheaded on 16 October by a man of Chechen origin. The teacher had been criticised by some in the local community for showing his pupils the cartoons because Muslims view images of the prophet as blasphemous.

The French government, backed by large numbers of citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on free speech and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.

President Emmanuel Macron called Paty a hero and pledged to fight what he described as Islamic separatism, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.

The reaction to Paty’s murder has caused widespread anger in Muslim countries, where there have been anti-French demonstrations and calls for boycott. France has warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions.

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EU

Customs Union: Commission proposes new ‘Single Window' to modernize and streamline customs controls, facilitate trade and improve co-operation

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The European Commission has proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called 'EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalize and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level.

It launches an ambitious project to modernize border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies. Economy Comissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Digitalization, globalization and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders.

"To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today's proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all member states to play their part in making it a true success story.”

The proposal, the press release, the Q&A and the factsheet are available online.

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coronavirus

Merkel plans circuit-break lockdown as German virus cases surge

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Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed regional leaders on Wednesday (28 October) to agree to a partial lockdown in Germany which would see restaurants and bars closed but keep schools open, a draft document seen by Reuters said, write and

The drastic measures, to take effect from 4 November, are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s biggest economy as the number of new cases hit a record high.

Under the planned new restrictions people would only be able to go out with members of their own and one other household. Fitness studios, discos and cinemas would close, as would theatres, opera houses and concert venues.

Restaurants would only be allowed to offer takeaways, the document said. Shops could remain open if they implement hygiene measures and limit customer numbers.

Merkel will hold a virtual conference with the country’s 16 state premiers later to try to agree the nationwide rules and ditch a confusing patchwork of regional measures.

Almost all regions of Germany face an exponential increase in infection rates, said the document to be discussed, and local health authorities can no longer trace all infections.

“The aim is to interrupt the dynamic of the infection fast so no far-reaching limits on personal contact and economic activity are needed over the Christmas period,” it said.

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis but is now in the midst of a second wave. Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, the Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases said on Wednesday.

Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, fuelling fears about the health system after Merkel warned on Tuesday it could hit breaking point if infections continue to spiral.

“If we wait until intensive care is full, it is too late,” Health Minister Jens Spahn, who last week tested positive for the virus, told broadcaster SWR.

The government has long insisted it wants to avoid a second blanket lockdown after an initial one this year hit economic growth, with the economy shrinking by a record 9.7% in the second quarter.

While economists expect a rebound for the July-Sept period, they warn that a further lockdown could wipe out growth in the last quarter. Third quarter data is due on 30 October.

Under the plans, the government aims to provide aid to firms hit by closures, including the cultural event sectors.

Only necessary overnight stays would be allowed, according to the document. Brothels, swimming pools, beauty and tattoo studios would close but physiotherapists and hairdressers could stay open. The steps would run until the end of November but are subject to review.

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